Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Return to Cleveburgh

We're in the last week of the Greater Youngstown 2.0 project. One of the unintended consequences of the effort is a better understanding of how to lure talented expatriates back home. Israel is struggling with these logistics:

"What we need is a kind of a vacuum cleaner, to suck back all those Israeli brains from foreign universities," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week. One detailed plan proposed by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry was recently shot down by the Finance Ministry, citing financial concerns, amidst competing proposals to save Israeli academia.

"We've heard plenty of statements but I've yet to see a cabinet resolution to bring back the scientists," said Omri Ingbar, coordinator of the interministerial committee for absorption in science. "The brain drain problem is rooted in the lack of employment opportunities. The cabinet must spearhead a move to create new jobs, but it's trying to avoid the responsibility. The treasury wants solutions that don't cost money," said Ingbar, who heads the returning scientists unit in the Immigrant Absorption Ministry.

You can't call out to your wayward favorite sons and daughters if you don't have positions that need filling. Even if you do have jobs at the ready, interested members of the diaspora may not have the right experience. Youngstown is strategically located between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, which considerably expands the employment market. Cleveburgh makes for a compelling value proposition for boomerang migrants from all along the Tech Belt.

But expanding the geography of the labor-shed isn't a solution, particularly when unemployment is high throughout the country. In fact, migration during the Great Recession is making a curious pattern. Charlotte (NC) and Portland (OR) are two metros hit harder than most cities. Despite the lack of jobs, people kept coming. I moved to the DC area under similar circumstances. While sleeping on the couches of friends, I pounded the pavement looking for a good internship. I would do whatever it took to make a go of it in Washington.

That happens all the time in global cities such as New York. Talent innovates in order to stick in place of high opportunity. Migration is a matter of motivation. So is entrepreneurship. In fact, the two often go hand in hand. Ironically, many regions see the incubation of a thriving startup culture as a good talent retention strategy. These policies are misguided: Great idea, wrong demographic.

Don't get me wrong. Natives still living in the area can make great entrepreneurs. But identifying the right people is an inexact science, to say the least. But finding small-business-owners-in-waiting is easy when you target the diaspora. Do you want to move home badly enough that you would be willing to create your own job? This is a pool of potential entrepreneurs yet to be tapped.

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